We have a lot of traditions in the South. And many of them revolve around food. Some of us drink Mint Juleps and eat Derby Pie during the Kentucky Derby. You’ll often find a Charm Cake at a bridal shower. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pecan pie. And you will ALWAYS find a King Cake at a Mardi Gras party. But the biggest and most important food tradition in my little world is to eat black eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day.
I was always told that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is a good idea of how the rest of your year will go. So I learned that eating black-eyed peas insured luck (and coin money) and that collard greens promised paper money. So just like Jews eat apples and honey at our new year (symbolizing a sweet and fruitful year), Southerners eat to insure their good fortune as well.
I was not much of a greens eater growing up. They definitely stink up the joint something fierce but, OMIGOD, if you do them right, they are so tasty and delicious that your family will forgive the stench. I went through a number of recipes and techniques over the years before finally coming up with something of my own. Please know that you can adjust any of these ingredients depending on how spicy, sweet, salty or tangy you want your greens. I’ve noted which ingredient adds which flavor note so you can adjust up or down based on that.
I always, always serve my black eyed peas and collard greens with ham and cornbread. This was, after all, the precursor to my Porkstravaganza party. Thus it’s all full of porky goodness. Could you make this kosher? Sure. Is it going to taste the same without craploads of bacon? No. But it would still be pretty damn good so do what you will!
Lowcountry Mama’s New Year’s Day Collard Greens
- 1 large bag triple washed collard greens, any very large stems discarded, rough chopped (a/k/a a “mess of greens”)
- 6 -8 slices thick cut bacon, diced (this gives you salty)
- 1 large onion, sliced into strips
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 C red wine vinegar (tangy)
- 1/4 C molasses (bitter-sweet)
- 1/4 C hot sauce, like Frank’s Red Hot or Crystal (spicy)
- 2 C water
- 1/2- 1 1/2 C low sodium or homemade chicken stock, based upon how juicy you want them (alternatively you can use a beer here for part of it)
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, cook bacon until crisp and fat rendered. Remove bacon with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Add onions to bacon fat and saute until very tender and beginning to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add vinegar, molasses, and hot sauce and combine well. Add water and 1/2 C stock or beer and bring to a simmer. Stir in collard greens a little at a time, tossing and turning a bit with each addition. Your pot will be pretty filled up at first. As the greens begin to cook down, add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Taste after about 30 minutes and add additional seasonings or stock as desired. At this point, cover pot about halfway so some steam escapes for remaining time.Cook for another 30-60 minutes until desired tenderness. Stir in reserved bacon in the last few minutes of simmering.
For a lot of people, the best part of collards is the pot likker (or juice) in the bottom of the pot. It’s wonderful to sop that up with some cornbread. At some really good Southern restaurants you can even order a bowl of pot likker and cornbread and eat it like a soup. Yummy! If you, like me, are a sopper, use more liquid at the beginning.